James Chance & the Contortions

Buy/Paris 1980: Live aux Bain Douches

BY Kevin HaineyPublished Nov 1, 2004

James Chance (a.k.a. White, real name Siegfried) was the outrageous hot dog of no-wave’s late ’70s implosion, a tight-lipped and wittily shrill saxophonist with a pompadour as sharp as his licks and an attitude as perversely punk and funky as his expert backing band, the Contortions. He was briefly part of the original Teenage Jesus & the Jerks, landed on No New York with the Contortions and became notorious for starting brawls during his own shows. James Chance & the Contortions’ debut album, Buy, is a post-punk or no-wave (take your pick) classic; a raggedy ride as low budget, stripped-down and upfront as its cover’s faux fashion photo. For his second release in 1979, James Chance became James White and the Contortions became the Blacks, and they took things to some seriously groove-oriented heights on Off White, an album that must rank among DFA’s most admired — just compare White’s slowed-down reworking of his signature tune, "Contort Yourself,” to DFA’s doped-up remix of Le Tigre’s "Deceptacon,” and you’ll hear what I’m saying. 1980’s so-so live document (PiL’s Paris au Printemps, anyone?) is only worth the price of admission for their unstoppable cover of Michael Jackson’s "Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” and some fine soloing from Chance. He would soon find himself running out of both luck and second chances as he slowly lost the original Contortions to less rock’n’roll lives and his punk edge to a middling funk personality. It was all down hill from there, but their original label, Ze, has rightfully made his best recordings available again. Now, everybody — contort yourself!

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